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Chip tool maker ASML to open Japan support center for Rapidus plant

Daniel Nenni

Staff member
Overseas chipmakers, others spread their bets due to China tensions

ASML's extreme ultraviolet lithography equipment and technical support are key to making cutting-edge semiconductors. (Photo courtesy of ASML)

September 26, 2023 18:57 JST
TOKYO/KUMAMOTO, Japan -- ASML, a Dutch chip equipment maker, will establish a new tech support center in Hokkaido by the latter half of next year, Nikkei has learned.

ASML will help Japan's chipmaker Rapidus, which aims to mass-produce cutting-edge semiconductors, set up factories and maintenance facilities in Japan. The major European chip equipment supplier will expand its workforce in Japan by 40% by around 2028.

As geopolitical risks continue to rise in East Asia against a backdrop of U.S.-China tensions, major overseas tech companies have launched new operations in Japan.

ASML is the top global supplier of photolithography equipment, which is key to the process of etching circuits onto computer chips. It is the only manufacturer in the world that makes extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography equipment. EUV gear is needed to mass-produce advanced semiconductors at processes of 5 to 7 nanometers and below.

ASML will open a tech support base near Chitose, on the northern island of Hokkaido. Around 50 engineers will install EUV equipment on a prototype production line at semiconductor plants that Japanese chipmaker Rapidus is building, assisting with their startup and maintenance.

Once Rapidus begins production, Japan will be the fifth location, after the U.S., Taiwan, South Korea and Ireland, where EUV-equipped mass-production lines are in operation.

In Kumamoto prefecture, on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, a new factory owned by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. is nearing completion. ASML in September relocated and expanded its technical support base in the prefecture. ASML plans to expand the number of engineers there from 10 to 40 people.

ASML aims to expand its payroll in Japan by 40% within five years from around 400 people now to roughly 560 people by around 2028.

ASML's main photolithography equipment factory, along with research and development facilities, is located in the Netherlands. The company has an extensive technical support system, mainly in Taiwan and the U.S., where important customers have plants.

However, in Taiwan, which handles more than 20% of the world's semiconductor production, geopolitical risks are rising as China, which claims the island as its own, threatens to take it by force. Given these tensions, the challenge has been to develop a flexible support system among global production bases, including the ability to dispatch technicians from technical centers outside Taiwan.

"Japan's semiconductor industry will continue to grow in this geopolitical climate," said Shojiro Fujiwara, president of ASML Japan. With many related material makers also present, Japan is becoming increasingly important in the East Asian semiconductor supply chain.

There has also been a move among U.S. chip equipment makers to expand their bases in Japan. Applied Materials plans to increase its workforce in Japan by 60% in the next few years. Lam Research in August moved its technical support base in Kumamoto to a different location in the prefecture to expand, and is considering opening a new facility in Hokkaido.

On the other hand, Japanese chipmaking equipment makers are dispersing overseas. Tokyo Electron is currently expanding its technology development facility in South Korea with the aim of starting operations there next year, while Hitachi High-Tech continues to build new bases and expand in the U.S., South Korea and Taiwan.